So consultant of the form of trooper the company coveted, Thompson was pictured on recruitment brochures. Simply final 12 months, he was given a “Trooper Of The Yr” award.
However lately, Thompson’s as soon as shiny profession appears unreconcilable with the place he’s now: Stripped of his badge and sitting in a county jail awaiting trial for felony homicide.
On August 7, Thompson shot and killed Julian Lewis, a 60-year-old Black man, following a chase within the quiet city of Sylvania. He was fired per week later.
The taking pictures rapidly thrust this small slice of Georgia into the nationwide highlight, with some, together with the Lewis household lawyer, evaluating his loss of life to these of George Floyd and Eric Garner. But, greater than a month on, nationwide consideration on this case has dimmed. With the dashcam video and different proof withheld by state investigators and no recognized bystander video, the general public outcry over Lewis’s loss of life was short-lived.
Regardless of the dearth of particulars launched concerning the taking pictures, interviews, transcripts and paperwork obtained by CNN supply a glimpse into Thompson’s seven-year profession as a trooper and clues into how a chase alongside east Georgia’s nation roads left one man useless and one other behind bars.
The night time of the taking pictures, and the ‘ugliest sort of lie’
It started with a damaged taillight.
Thompson informed investigators that is why he tried to drag Lewis over that night time, however Lewis stored driving, turned on his hazard lights and made some hand alerts to Thompson earlier than heading down a few nation roads.
Lewis lit a cigarette as he drove. An unopened beer sat within the console. On the time, Lewis was on parole for driving impaired, information present, resulting from finish in late August.
As they sped alongside, Thompson determined to ram Lewis’s automobile, performing what’s generally known as a PIT maneuver — a way allowed if a trooper believes stopping a chase is within the curiosity of public security. Lewis’s automobile spun out and stopped in a ditch.
Thompson parked his patrol car “roughly even” with Lewis’s automobile and drew his weapon as he stepped out, he wrote in an incident report.
“Sooner or later, I heard the engine on the violator’s car revving at a excessive charge of velocity,” Thompson mentioned, noting that he activated the sunshine on his gun.
Lewis had “each arms on the steering wheel” and was wrenching it “in an aggressive forwards and backwards method in the direction of me and my patrol car,” the trooper wrote. “It appeared to me that the violator was making an attempt to make use of his car to injure me.”
He fired his gun as soon as, he mentioned, then peered contained in the automobile and realized he’d shot Lewis within the brow.
However Thompson’s account is opposite to what proof and dashcam video reveals occurred, GBI agent Dustin Peak testified on the trooper’s August 24 bond listening to.
The video reveals, “roughly one second after Mr. Thompson’s foot got here off the brake and the car went into park, the shot — one shot was fired,” Peak mentioned.
Peak additionally famous that the crash left Lewis’s automobile inoperable and its wheels going through away from Thompson’s car.
Lewis’s car was a front-wheel-drive automobile, Peak mentioned, and the driving force’s facet was resting in smooth sand, which might have kicked up if the tire had spun. “There is not any indication that the entrance tire ever rotated,” the agent mentioned.
Requested by prosecutor J. Barclay Black whether or not Lewis’s automobile posed a risk to Thompson that justified lethal drive, Peak replied, “No, sir.”
There have been no witnesses to the taking pictures, Peak added.
Whereas looking out the automobile, brokers didn’t discover any firearms or medicine, the agent testified. Other than the unopened beer can, investigators recovered Lewis’s mobile phone within the driver’s facet pocket.
A GBI toxicology report accomplished a pair weeks after Peak’s testimony would present Lewis had cocaine, methamphetamine and the prescription anti-depressant fluoxetine in his system.
Protection lawyer Robert Persse steered that Thompson was so traumatized after killing Lewis that he could not precisely keep in mind the moments across the taking pictures.
Peak conceded, “I am positive it is doable.”
Julian Lewis’s widow, Betty, took the stand on the bond listening to, telling the decide that Thompson’s characterization of her husband as threatening is “the ugliest sort of lie” in relation to Black folks and police. “It performs on the stereotypes that Black males are violent,” she mentioned.
The decide denied bond for Thompson, who was arrested on felony homicide and aggravated assault prices. He has not entered a plea.
The protection staff plans to look into whether or not the automobile was really inoperable, Persse informed CNN, declining to remark additional. Black declined to remark for the story.
Betty Lewis informed CNN her husband “wasn’t a violent” man, and that she believes he wasn’t fleeing in any respect. He was most likely making an attempt to succeed in a well-lit spot at an uncle’s residence close by, she mentioned.
Lewis possible stored driving for a similar purpose folks of shade worry being stopped by legislation enforcement and typically do not cease, mentioned household lawyer Francys Johnson, the previous head of Georgia’s NAACP chapter.
They believe that police are “searching for a purpose to substantiate … suspicion of your criminality.”
Trooper praised for being aggressive
Thompson was fired for what’s described in information solely as “negligence or inefficiency in performing assigned duties” or fee of a felony.
It is an abrupt bookend to a profession marked largely with reward for his work ethic and sense of duty, traits rewarded with a number of promotions.
Coworkers preferred him. One even took the time to inform his boss about how Thompson delivered diapers and sippy cups — objects belonging to his personal younger son — to toddlers who had been hospitalized after a automobile crash.
Every one in all Thompson’s annual efficiency critiques was largely constructive, noting his many accomplishments. He obtained compliments from members of the general public and incessantly led his submit in DUI enforcement. Nonetheless, his bosses persistently pressured that he ought to enhance his numbers — amp up stops for rushing and distracted driving and enhance his crash work. It was a aggressive setting, one the place his numbers had been ranked towards his coworkers’.
In a 2019 analysis, a supervisor wrote that Thompson led his submit in DUI busts and gained a MADD (Moms Towards Drunk Driving) pin.
His “outcomes oriented” character helped him typically lead his submit in different achievements.
His “weakest” class was catching speeders regardless of making 130 rushing arrests and issuing 140 warnings that 12 months. He was informed to extend his numbers.
Additionally, that 12 months his supervisor praised Thompson for being “aggressive” and informed him that he ranked “second” amongst submit colleagues for the variety of distracted driving tickets and warnings he gave.
The supervisor famous that Thompson’s judgment had improved from earlier years, throughout which the trooper was investigated after drivers lodged complaints about him.
He was additionally known as out for being aggressive
In 2016, Melissa Lee sat on the facet of a Georgia freeway, holding her boyfriend Brent Thibeaux’s hand, praying for his or her security. Thompson had simply pulled them over.
The Black couple had flown from San Francisco to Atlanta and hopped in a rental automobile, sure for Sylvania to shock her dad on his 65th birthday.
On the outskirts of city, they mentioned they observed Thompson of their rear view. Odd, she thought, as a result of she did not seem like rushing or breaking any legal guidelines.
Thompson drove up subsequent to their automobile, checked out them, dropped again and trailed the couple for a number of miles, they mentioned, inflicting Lee to develop into so nervous that she hit the white line.
They had been satisfied they’d been profiled as a result of it appeared that Thompson adopted them, simply ready for them to do one thing to justify a cease, Lee informed CNN. And so they felt it unusual that after Thompson requested for her identification and rental info, he additionally requested Thibeaux for his identification. Thompson allow them to go with out a ticket.
Thibeaux described their expertise in a grievance with the state lawyer common’s workplace, insisting that the couple had been victims of “driving whereas Black.”
Thompson’s account of the incident is analogous, information present, besides he alleged he solely began following the couple after he noticed Lee hitting the white line after which tried to catch her driving sample on digicam.
A captain who reviewed the incident informed Thibeaux that he may perceive the couple’s concern from “your perspective” however that the trooper’s actions had been “constant” along with his job duties.
Lee and Thibeaux weren’t proud of that clarification. Thompson’s bosses had been “overlaying” for him, Thibeaux informed CNN.
The encounter modified the way in which they journey in Georgia. Right this moment, they fly right into a metropolis nearer to Sylvania to spend much less time on the street, hoping that lessens their probabilities of being pulled over.
In 2017, George S. Corridor noticed Thompson’s blue lights behind him. He, too, was shocked to be pulled over. He’d performed nothing unsuitable, he thought. Thompson would later say he initially believed Corridor wasn’t carrying a seat belt and Corridor’s window tinting regarded too darkish.
The cease rapidly devolved right into a standoff with Thompson repeatedly questioning the 66-year-old Black man about whether or not he’d been consuming or doing medicine and Corridor refusing to reply, telling the trooper he did not belief him, information reveal. Thompson’s tone was “authoritative and demeaning,” Corridor wrote in his grievance, and added that it felt like Thompson had racially profiled him.
Because the more and more tense cease bore on, paperwork present, Corridor disclosed he had a firearm and allow. Thompson handcuffed him, later telling a lieutenant investigating the grievance that he did so as a result of he supposed to arrest Corridor for DUI as a result of Corridor’s eyes regarded “bloodshot and watery” and he smelled alcohol on his breath, and since the cease would possibly get uncontrolled.
However Thompson informed the investigator that he started to doubt he’d smelled alcohol and that Corridor’s darkish clothes had made it appear he wasn’t carrying a seat belt, so perhaps he was unsuitable. And, the truth is, Thompson informed the investigator, he realized Corridor’s tinting was authorized. The trooper eliminated the cuffs and let Corridor go.
Thompson had been “considerably overly aggressive,” the investigating lieutenant discovered, noting that he and a sergeant “endorsed TFC Thompson about his techniques and communication on this specific cease.”
Thompson “admitted that he’d by no means had anybody refuse his requests to this extent,” the lieutenant wrote, concluding his probe by calling the younger trooper an “asset” for his “very aggressive and proactive” DUI enforcement.
The one substantiated grievance towards Thompson occurred in 2015 when he known as Georgia resident Sean Wooden a “dumbass for wrecking” after Wooden hydroplaned off the street and totaled his automobile, an inside investigation discovered.
A captain decided that Thompson was “unprofessional” and wrote to Wooden, “You describe TFC Thompson’s whole demeanor as uncaring and I must agree that he may have undoubtedly proven extra compassion and empathy …”
Thompson was coached on his conduct, information present.
An inside memo from the captain to a significant mentioned that whereas he wasn’t making an attempt to make an excuse for Thompson, the trooper had labored 5 crashes that day with one other two pending.
Wooden, who’s White, just lately noticed the information about Thompson’s arrest.
“One factor I can say, his demeanor and perspective that day sort of gave us a really unusual vibe …,” he informed CNN. “It got here off to us that he was on an influence journey.”
The taking pictures has left this city on edge
The nationwide reckoning over race and policing, which has sparked months of protests and fueled anger between legislation enforcement and Black Lives Matter supporters, hasn’t spared Screven County. The neighborhood is about two hours north of Glynn County, the place in February jogger Ahmaud Arbery was chased by two White males and shot useless.
Nevertheless it does not imply people in Screven need to be a part of the dialog.
Lewis’s taking pictures has “all people on edge,” mentioned Hearth Division Chief Harvey Cryder.
“Individuals are simply strolling very evenly and making an attempt to not touch upon something. Individuals have disconnected and obtained off Fb,” he mentioned. “In case you say you assist him then you do not assist Black folks however in the event you assist Black Lives Matter, then you definitely’re unsuitable, too.”
To some there, Thompson is taken into account, as one particular person described, a “native son,” a kindhearted churchgoing father who comes from a well-respected household.
CNN tried to succeed in Thompson’s mother and father with out success. His spouse declined to be interviewed.
At Thompson’s bond listening to, his protection lawyer offered 50 letters from supporters, together with a former mayor from the world and quite a few legislation enforcement professionals. They exulted Thompson as compassionate and selfless.
Even some who Thompson had pulled over wished the decide to know that he was variety and honest.
And two felons who had been on hearth division work packages weighed in, one gushing that Thompson had helped him “develop not solely as a firefighter however as a human being.”
A person who mentioned he was one in all solely two Black deputies in adjoining Jenkins County wrote, “Jake by no means confirmed any tendencies of being racist.”
It appeared unfathomable to them that what occurred the night time of August 7 was something greater than Thompson defending himself.
They battle to image the place he’s now, sitting in a cell.
Separated from violent inmates, Thompson bunks with low-level offenders, guys who’ve odd jobs across the jail.
His household visits. So do troopers.
Typically he is allowed exterior for a pair hours, in a position to stroll round a concrete enclosure.
He’s stored from the unrest stirring exterior these partitions. On a latest Saturday, in downtown Sylvania, Betty Lewis, her lawyer and others gathered in entrance of metropolis corridor and held a peaceable protest, demanding that video of her husband’s taking pictures be launched. Marchers held their fists aloft; one carried an indication of the American flag with dozens of white strips of paper fluttering within the breeze. On every learn the identify of a Black particular person killed by legislation enforcement.
Males, who weren’t legislation enforcement, confirmed up too, some with lengthy weapons and carrying camouflage. Johnson, the household lawyer, had his personal armed bodyguards as a result of, he mentioned, he’d obtained loss of life threats.
“What we had been searching for was justice … I simply felt what they making an attempt to do (was) intimidate us,” Lewis mentioned.
“We campaigned that day for the movies and tapes of Julian, which I really feel now we have a proper to,” she continued. “I am offended about it … we should not must beg.”
“I would like some kind of closure right here … There was no purpose why Julian needed to die that manner.”
CNN’s Majlie de Puy Kamp contributed to this report.